Food prices in South Africa have spiked – particularly these items

 ·27 May 2020

Families in South Africa living on low incomes may be spending 30% more on food than they did two months ago, the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PEJDG) says.

It said that the average household food basket has increased by 7.8% (R250) between March 2020 and May 2020.

Lockdown restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has meant that with children and workers at home, food runs out quicker. PEJDG said that its research suggests that families living on low incomes may be spending 30% (R973.93) more on food in May 2020, than they did two months ago.

“Government’s decisions on responding to the pandemic via hard lockdown and the specific regulations related to these, is impacting on, and changing expenditure patterns and consumer behaviours of households living on low incomes very significantly,” it said.

It said that with wages/income having been suspended for many, and insufficient top-ups on social grants, women, with no savings buffers, have had to take on higher levels of debt, primarily through loan sharks, to absorb some part of the food shortfalls.

“This means that not only are households having to spend more on food, but they are having to borrow money to buy this food. And at very high interest rates,” it said.

Food prices have spiked across the basket over the past two months, with some of these shown below:

Increases on core staples

  • Rice: 26%
  • Cake flour: 3%
  • White sugar: 6%
  • Sugar beans: 18%
  • Cooking oil: 11%
  • White bread: 15%
  • Brown bread: 14%

Increases on vegetables

  • Potatoes: 8%
  • Onions: 58%
  • Tomatoes: 12%
  • Carrots: 22%
  • Spinach: 13%
  • Cabbage: 22%

The cost of a food basket

Over the past two months, covering the period pre-lockdown (2 March) to 4 May 2020, the price of the PEJDG food basket increased by R249,92 (7.8%), taking the total cost of the basket in May 2020 to R3,470.92 (from R3,221.00 in March 2020). The year-on-year price of the basket increased by R419.80 (13.8%), from R3,051.11 in May 2019 to R3,470.92 in May 2020.

Changing household expenditure patterns and costs in May 2020

“The food price increases we are seeing in Pietermaritzburg are considerable,” the group said.

A 7.8% or additional R250 cost on a basic basket of core staple foods over the past two months, for families living on low incomes is a serious financial shock, it said.

The basket on the 4 May is R3,470.92. This is more than the National Minimum Wage of a worker (R3,321.60) who still has a job, is paid at the maximum level of R20.76 an hour, for an 8-hour day and is allowed to work for the full number of working days (20) in May 2020.

The cost of changing household expenditure patterns and consumer behaviour on the household food basket over the past two months


PEJDG said that not being able to seek out cheaper prices, due to a curb on the freedom of movement, could average as an additional R214.84 on the household shopping bill.

These two aspects, coupled with supermarket price increases, mean that households must spend substantially more money on food than they did two months ago: here, our research suggests an additional R724.01 a month in May 2020.

The PEJDG household food basket includes average prices over 5 supermarkets and 4 butcheries. In May 2020 it cost R3,470.92.

However, with the additional food bought and the inability to seek out cheaper prices, a more realistic cost of the food baskets of households living on low incomes in May 2020, might be R4,194.93, PEJDG said.

This means that since March 2020 (pre-lockdown, R3,221.00) to May 2020, whilst food prices have increased by 7.8%, the additional spend on food and not being able to shop around for food, suggests that households may be spending 30% (R973.93) more on food.

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